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stick PC for imaging and control


iapa
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Have been eying up 'compute sticks' for the past year or two.

This month I bit the bullet and purchased a BBEN for £135 w/v HDMI/VGA adapter. 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Desktop-PCs/Bben-Windows-Officially-Licenced-Multimedia-Computer-Bluetooth/B01M61HVJC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493389069&sr=8-1&keywords=bben

 It was supplied with Windows 10 Pro and no bloat ware - @Gina I recall issues you had with a mini PC and bloatware; this may be an option?

For the first pass I installed the same software as I have on the windows 7 machines:

  • Stellarium/Stellarium Scope
  • ACOM 6.3 c/w drivers for mount and cameras etc.
  • hardware drivers as required for the kit.
  • PHD2 2.6.3
  • EZCap - for the QHY6 I used as a guide camera
  • Toupsky - for the Toutek mono I also use as a guide camera.
  • Nebulosity 4 - for stacking
  • SGPro - capture sequencing
  • DSS - rough image stacking
  • PoleMaster
  • OneDrive - I set up a folder in OneDrive for the images, and added that folder to the Pictures Library, setting it as the default pictures folder. That was when setting up my apps, I simply browse to the Library rather then running through the whole folder structure inOneDrive.
  •  

I have subsequently rebuild the OS, and s/w installs omitting DSS, Nebulosity, Sharpcap and Stellarium to save space.

After spending a few days ensuring each was configured with the parameters for the various bits of kit - as well and ensuring everything had the same location :) it was time for a run. This was also first time out with the ASI 1600.Also made sure it would connect to my wireless

  • Celestron AVX
  • Skywatcher Equinox Pro ED80
  • Orion 50m guide scope
  • Touptek Mono for guiding
  • ZWO ASI 1600mm-C for imaging
  • ZWO EFW - LRGB filters. Slot 5 empty.

Images were saved to internal storage. ASI camera produces 33MB images. Available space was adequate for 780 images.

Here we go.......

  • put all the hardware together, roughly balanced as intent was to prove the stick PC was capable.
  • ASI1600 connected to the USB3, guide com connected to USB2 port on the ASI, hand controller to the USB2 port no the stick PC.
  • Selected a target - M51. Did all the frame grabbing/solving to get RA/Dec in SGPro
  • Created sequence n SGPro, 5min for each of LRGB, 100 frames for each.
  • Did the polar alignment.
  • Calibrated PHD2 (there was a good target just at +20deg Alt - Arcturus Think)
  • Focused the ED80

The stick PC dealt with all of this with little problem. Plate solving in under 30seconds, that pushed CPU up a wee bit but not much.

Guiding was quite good for the conditions - again, the stick PC took this in it's stride.

Conclusion - a worthwhile investment with a couple of caveats

  • I needed to put an WiFi hub outside beside the mount as the stick PC was not connecting to the house WiFi 30' away.
  • don't run stellarium when imaging. But, you don't need to anyway with SGPro.
  • err, that's it.

Issues

Mainly it was Stellarium refuses to save config with Iridium and satellite options disabled, that pushed CPU up to 80-100%. With those disabled each time manually, CPU usage fell to c25% for stellarium when not slewing.

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Interesting read, thanks.

8 minutes ago, iapa said:

don't run stellarium when imaging.

...why do you say this?  I may have missed something, but I don't see anything in the writeup which shows this was a problem, apart, perhaps, from saving some space?

 

 

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Nice, the amount of power they are fitting into small form factor PC's is becoming impressive.

 

I find if I run CDC instead of Stellarium it works a lot better on low power computers, it just doesn't look as pretty ;)

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3 minutes ago, AKB said:

Interesting read, thanks.

...why do you say this?  I may have missed something, but I don't see anything in the writeup which shows this was a problem, apart, perhaps, from saving some space?

 

 

The background CPU usage of Stellarium was 10-12% when idle. No point in having it running as it was not doing anything useful while the imaging session was running.

With a low power CPU, I want to keep an much free overhead as I can :).

PHD2 was running at 8-10%

SGPro was about 30%

Overall CPU was 60-75% during the session.

Obviously the sis not a fully measured report - that will come later :)

 

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Thanks for the write-up. Useful reference as I have no experience of running such a system, micro-PC or not. Do the Win10 updates cause you any grief?

You also say " I have subsequently rebuild the OS ". What exactly do you mean by that please?

The remaining capacity for images looks more than adequate, but I read that the device will take a microSD up to 128GB too.

Ian

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18 minutes ago, D4N said:

Nice, the amount of power they are fitting into small form factor PC's is becoming impressive.

 

I find if I run CDC instead of Stellarium it works a lot better on low power computers, it just doesn't look as pretty ;)

A plus point of this particular device is that it is the same width as my vixen dovetails so fits very neatly on there under the OTA.

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1 minute ago, The Admiral said:

Thanks for the write-up. Useful reference as I have no experience of running such a system, micro-PC or not. Do the Win10 updates cause you any grief?

You also say " I have subsequently rebuild the OS ". What exactly do you mean by that please?

The remaining capacity for images looks more than adequate, but I read that the device will take a microSD up to 128GB too.

Ian

No issues with the updates at present. With it being supplied with Win10 Pro, there is an option to defer update of new features for a few months.

With Win10 installed properly, which this was, you can do a recovery which will erase all existing files and reinstall Win10. It did take a couple of hours to do, but, it meant I had a nice clean OS to start from after playing. No additional media required, it is all on the stick.

It does take a 128GB MMC card. I had one, but

  • it's busted now :(
  • I wanted to deliberately see if I could work with the PC "out the box".

Having the folder I was saving images to, on OneDrive they were also copied straight away to 'thecoloudiness' - I plan to run DSS live in future on the 'main' i7 PC in the warm place to I can see the image building up.

I was also thinking that a wee macro could be used to move the files to another folder - off the stick PC - to maintain free space on it.

My view is that it is a capture and control device; if I can maintain a minimal local disk usage all the better. Although with 780+ images from the ASI1600 the local storage seems more than enough for a night.

 

 

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6 minutes ago, The Admiral said:

I'm sorry, I may have missed this, but how do you access the system please? Via a computer attached to your house wi-fi?

Ian

I used WiFi to connect the stick PC to my network, and Microsoft Remote Desktop on my iMac in the house to connect. It worked fine even with the file uploads to OneDrive.

I did have to run an access point (AP) outside - with a wired connection to my main hub in the house - as the access point in the house was too far away to get a solid signal. I will be looking at that later. The stick PC supports 802.1 b/n/g/ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz).

So, I had two cables running outside. A mains extension and the ethernet cable to the WiFi unit.

Two cables ran to the mount - 12V power to the mount itself, and 5V 3A to the stick PC. 

If one was building an observatory, I'd expect WiFi hub in there would be a 'standard' fixture for mobile phones/tablets anyway. :)

 

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11 minutes ago, iapa said:

I was also thinking that a wee macro could be used to move the files to another folder - off the stick PC - to maintain free space on it.

My view is that it is a capture and control device; if I can maintain a minimal local disk usage all the better. Although with 780+ images from the ASI1600 the local storage seems more than enough for a night.

Would I be correct in saying that one could store images on a microSD card rather than the internal storage, and transfer the image files subsequently and manually to a 'home' computer for processing? OK, the workflow might not be so streamlined but actually would be better for my simple brain to cope with :icon_biggrin:.

Ian

Edit. Ah, that won't help with setting up will it, for which there would need to be an interface.

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14 minutes ago, The Admiral said:

Would I be correct in saying that one could store images on a microSD card rather than the internal storage, and transfer the image files subsequently and manually to a 'home' computer for processing? OK, the workflow might not be so streamlined but actually would be better for my simple brain to cope with :icon_biggrin:.

Ian

Edit. Ah, that won't help with setting up will it, for which there would need to be an interface.

You could save the images to the MMC - you would want to consider how 'fast' the write time was of the card compared to the internal memory. Something to look at later perhaps.

And remember to get an MMC to SD adapter to fit into your main PC or whatever to copy the files off.

Setting up the stick PC initially required connection to my monitor (the BBEN comes with anHDMI-VGA connector), and wired mouse/keyboard*- I think you can use some wireless ones but I didn't have such to hand.

With the monitor,mouse and keyboard, connected you now have a PC.

First step then was to connect to the WiFi so I could access the necessary installation files for SGPro etc. that I already have.

I could have copied all the installation files to a USB drive of some sort, but, as they were all on another networked PC I could connect to via the WiFi I saved myself that time. 

*I didn't pursue it, but when the stick PC first started up after I did the OS reinstallation it prompted me to connect using the Intel Remote Keyboard app. I think it created it's own wireless network to allow that. TBH I do not remember if that happened out the box.

Edited by iapa
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55 minutes ago, D4N said:

Nice, the amount of power they are fitting into small form factor PC's is becoming impressive.

 

I find if I run CDC instead of Stellarium it works a lot better on low power computers, it just doesn't look as pretty ;)

:) I like 'pretties' LOL

I did wonder why I was running an application that wasn't actually doing anything :BangHead:

It may be different for others when selecting targets, but even then, you don't need to run it one you start imaging if you are guiding.

 

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I have one too (though I went for the Core m3 version for a bit more grunt and snappier windows experience) and it has been great. I love it -- I use it for both imaging and mount control using eqmod. I Remote Desktop in from my iPad or laptop so I have wireless control over the mount and camera on the touchscreen. Even if I'm using my laptop, I almost always still use the iPad for mount control.

The reason for this is Sky Safari on the iPad. It's the best thing I have found to control the mount. All you need is to have the iPad and the stick on he same wifi network and then connect through a free utility called wifiscope running on the stick (assuming your stick is controlling your mount). The wireless touchscreen control of Sky Safari is a really great experience. Using the stick you don't need to purchase the large and expensive official box from simulation simulacrum, avoiding more stuck on the mount. It makes star hopping and exploring using goto really fun.

Thr one thing to note is that 2.4GHz wifi band interferes with USB3. This isn't a compute stick issue but a general technology specification one. However the compute stick is particularly susceptible due to its size. Basically I found that as soon as I tried using a USB 3 hub the 2.4 wifi became completely unreliabe. Curiously it was sometimes okay plugging the usb3 directly in. But only sometimes. In the end I dropped using 2.4 all together and use 5ghz exclusively and I've had no issues. 

The other great thing is that you can make it super portable and power it from a small lithium ion battery pack. It's a little demanding on the voltage so you need to be careful about what you buy, but for the m3 if you use a battery with Qualcomm quickcharge 3 USB power it is completely stable. For the atom I think pretty much most 2.4A USB outputs are good. 

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